Salt Meats Cheese Meets Me!

So, if you’re not from Sydney, you probably haven’t been to Salt Meats Cheese or The Grounds in Alexandria.  So you’re missing out.

First of all, The Grounds.  The Grounds is smack bang in the middle of Sydney (not the CBD) but pretty close to inner Sydney in what used to be a fairly industrial area.  And if I’m honest, a few years ago when I had a chance to live in Alexandria, I turned up my nose and flatly refused to move there.  Well, gentrification is a powerful thing and now Alexandria is a pretty hip place for well, hipsters and yuppies.  The Runner and I are DEFINITELY NOT hipsters, however we *may* be yuppies…. Or at least the product of one time yuppie parents.  Anyway, The Grounds is a fairly new and fairly popular place in Sydney for those of us in our mid-30s who live near the city and drive mini-SUVs or Volkswagens.   They have great coffee, yummy food, a pig and some chickens.  Yup, you read that right, it’s a regular Old MacDonald’s Farm for city kids.  The pig is named Kevin Bacon-  get it, Kevin….BACON!  He’s a minor celebrity in Sydney having been the victim of a kidnapping earlier this year.   Yes, you read that correctly.   It was a massive news story.   The chickens are just chickens but there’s a lamb, or a goat…I’m not really sure which.  I grew up in a city, it has four legs and doesn’t bark or meow, it could be anything.    The Grounds is as close as I’ve gotten to a pig or chickens or lamb/goats/sheep unless you count the meat aisle of the grocery store.  Anyway, The Grounds has a garden, café,  and a bar, you can buy flowers, fresh fruit, blueberry lemonade,  donuts and all sorts of other treats.  You can have a coffee, have some lunch, get married (as some friends did) and have afternoon drinks.  It’s all very pretty and very urban- hence why the urban yuppies love it.  If you’re in Sydney, I highly recommend checking it out.

As if The Grounds wasn’t enough, Foodie-Hipster-Yuppie heaven aka Salt Meats Cheese is next door.   They have artisanal meats, cheeses, oils, salts and pastas.    They also have a wide range of imported and specialty foods.  They sell the type of food that seems like a great idea at the time but that you never actually eat and then you feel guilty about having in your house (I’m looking at you $8 spaghetti sauce).  You can buy chocolate pasta, a range of gluten free flours, flavoured olives and smoked and flavoured salts.  I still have not graduated to the level of Foodie-ism where I know what to do with a flavoured salt, but I do know where to buy them.   And yes, I have purchased, cooked, and eaten their chocolate pasta—and it’s delicious!  One of the best things about Salt Meats Cheese is that they also offer cooking classes.   For my pre-wedding, “hens” day, we did their pasta making class- super fun, and this past Sunday, I went to their Burger Making Workshop.

Wow!

First of all, I learned a lot.  The class was taught by a butcher who explained how to choose and prepare our own meat for our burgers.  Hint—buying the pre-minced mince at the butchers is for amateurs.  And don’t even think about buying the pre-made burger patties because according to the butcher, it may not even be beef.

Lucky for me, I happen to have a meat grinder (as should everyone, of course!) He showed us how to prepare the meat (3 parts chuck steak to 1 part brisket) for the mincer- it has to be cold and cut up in chunks.   We were allowed to choose our own seasonings- but told to Keep It Simple!  The meat was the star of this burger.  And it was!  It was one of the better burgers I’ve ever made- and all I put in it was ground thyme, a bit of cooked onion, and tomato ketchup.  We cooked the burgers ourselves, with a bit of help and another hint- cook the burger in olive oil for 6 minutes on one side and only 3-4 minutes on the other.

The team at Salt Meats Cheese was awesome as well- they had a selection of condiments, a delicious brioche bun and piping hot, super delicious fries to go with it.  YUM!  It was a super fun Sunday and we even got to take some burger patties home… which The Runner was particularly pleased with!  It also inspired me to start doing more cooking classes!  There’s so much to learn in the kitchen and so much fun to be had, so in 2015, I’m going to make learning to cook better a priority!

See below for some photos from the day…. try not to drool too much!

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Evil Jungle Princess….

So lacking the rigor and structure and schedule of a full time job, I sort of neglected to actually remember to invite anyone over for dinner tonight.    We did issue a couple of last minute invitations this afternoon in Coogee but sadly no takers.  Oh well….

This week’s dinner is actually a family recipe.  Not my family, my brother in law’s family but it has special meaning because it was actually the last meal I ate with my Dad.  If I could go back and rewind that night, I would have enjoyed it more.  Except for my Mom and my youngest brother, my entire immediate family was there- The Runner, My Dad, two brothers, my sister, 3 nephews and 1 ½ nieces—my youngest niece just turned 1 but she was there.  It was a fantastic night, and little did I know how one of a kind it would be.  

The recipe is called Evil Jungle Princess Chicken- and it’s a recipe that my brother in law’s mother makes and passed down to him.  I’ve never made it before tonight and the recipe I have was delivered via two emails—one a list of ingredients and the other a list of direction—truly how a good family recipe should be delivered.

I can’t promise that it’s accurate—often family recipes omit a key ingredient because well, you can’t give away all of your secrets can you?  My mother passed down her famous corn casserole recipe to my cousin, only she forgot to include the eggs in the recipe.   She claims it was by accident but I have my doubts…the recipe is legendary and you can’t be too careful in who you pass on the secret to.

So, hopefully my brother in law doesn’t mind me sharing- but I’m making his famous Evil Jungle Princess Chicken Curry tonight!

First, I cut up about a pound of chicken and dice an onion which I throw into a big stock pot with canola oil, cayenne pepper, and chili powder.  I brown the onions and the chicken and once my eyes are watering and I’m coughing from all the chili—and sweating a bit actually, I throw in “a lot of garlic”—that’s what the recipe says but I have no idea what that actually means.  I debate internally for a sec and decide on 6 cloves—because that’s how much I have in the house.  Six cloves seems like an ample about a garlic, possibly not “a lot” but then I’m not going to leave the house now to go out and buy an unspecified amount of garlic.  I “add chicken stock” too- the quantity of chicken stock is vague so I make an executive decision and decide on about 500 ml to start with—no idea if this is too much or not enough!  But 500ml seems like enough to get things started but not so much that it will lead to evil jungle princess broth.

I finely cut two stalks of lemongrass and add that in, nearly slicing off my finger in the process.  Thankfully The Runner is there to bandage me up and I can continue on.  It was touch and go for a minute or two. 

 I add in a jalapeno and a long green chili- the recipe only says to add in a jalapeno, but I’m playing fast and loose with the rules.   And then the terror strikes me.  I’m on a 30 day dairy free challenge–if it’s too hot and spicy,  I won’t be able to drink milk, mango lassi, or any other cooling drink to quench the fire.   I suddenly realize that loading up a dish with chilies could be a bad idea. I can’t have dairy so if it does turn out to be blow your head off hot, I’m S.O.L as they say because there will be no cooling yogurt for me….. or milk… or cheese or cream cheese or sour cream or…  Uh oh. 

I put these negative thoughts to the back of my mind and toss in a tsp of fish sauce and then chop up 5 carrots and toss them in as well.  It’s looking a bit dry so I add more chicken stock which is either a good idea or a horribly bad one—who knows at this point.  I’m panicked about the chili-explosion which may await my taste buds and set the timer for 10 minutes and as the recipe dictates let the carrots cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.

I use the ten minutes wisely by cutting up 5-6 potatoes—the recipe says 3-4 but figure a few extra never hurt anyone (especially The Runner) – and with the spare 8 minutes I Instagram a progress shot of dinner.  #doublefilter #herunsicook #Ishouldreallyfocusoncooking #hashtagsareabitannoying

Anyway, when the timer goes off I add dried mint (2 tsp), lemon juice (1 tsp), sugar (1 tsp), and potatoes.  It needs to cook for 30-40 minutes over low heat so I turn it down and leave it.  I wish I had a box of jiffy cornbread to serve with it but decide on rice instead—cornbread would have been amazing though- but it would require milk so is a no.  I try to be semi healthy by choosing a whole grain rice blend but also decide to chuck in a bit of white rice as well.  The Runner seems to have thwarted my plans because I cannot for the life of me find any white rice in our cabinet.  He’s going to force me to be healthy if it kills me!  I quietly shake my fist in anger and then find my secret stash of jasmine rice.   Bwahaha!

I can now move onto more pressing matters….. what wine will we have with dinner????

While I decide, I crack open an Anchor Steam beer- it’s a beer I remember my Dad liking, so it’s a weird coincidence that they just happened to be in the Coogee Bay Hotel bottle shop today.  I don’t go in there often but somehow today I was there and so were they.  

Once the timer goes off, I add in a can coconut milk and a bit more fish sauce- no quantity given just “more fish sauce”.  I turn the heat to low and then cook for 5- 10 minutes—well, actually I’ll cook it until the rice is done in 15 minutes.  I chop in some fresh mint to throw in at the end- and that’s meant to be it. 

I say meant to be it because I’m sure it’s missing something but I’m not sure what.  It wasn’t spicy enough so I threw in another green chili or two– and garnished with a third.   It was quite minty but after mellowing for a few minutes it was actually ok.  The last line of the recipe in the email is “I’m sure you can handle it and will add more or less of the ingredients below depending on how spicy and sweet you want it.”  Yikes.  Panic.  Fingers crossed it turns out edible—and hopefully tasty as well!!!

It did!  It was delish, The Runner even went back for seconds.  What would I do differently next time?  Not much.

I would advise using quite big pieces of chicken- I think mine was cut too finely so it’s a bit like shredded chicken rather than chicken chunks but you might like the shreddedness.  As for the rest… It was an A+ for The Runner and super yum for me.  There’s also lots of room for variation next time—might try sweet potato and potato, or maybe some green peas in the curry.  It’s definitely a recipe to cook from taste not from recipe…. And it’s definitely a winner!

 

OMG, It’s another Sunday Dinner Party!

So this week’s challenge is from Jane Kennedy’s OMG I Can Eat That?!?.  The recipe was the Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Piemakin and OMG it was pretty easy and pretty good!

So, soon after I picked this recipe, I had a minor freak out—it’s served in Ramekins and I “only” have two sizes of ramekins (I know, me and my first world problems).  Neither size looks quite big enough to feed/fill hungry people.   Oh snap!  So, in vain, I searched the web for ramekin sizes and realised that 1, Ramekins come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and 2, it was a Saturday so even if I found the perfect ramekin, there was no way they’d be here in time.  That left me with two options:  1, make a pie in my super large ramekin shaped dish… or 2, make a dessert.  I chose the dessert option.  Slightly more work, but who doesn’t like cake.  And, if I can find candles that aren’t tea lights in the house, we may light them and wish The Runner an early happy birthday.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering my larger ramekins are about 9oz, which is also the largest size ramekin stocked by www.foodservicewarehouse.com.  They don’t look that big but hopefully they’ll do the trick!  If not, oh well, there’s a McDonalds across the road everyone can hit after dinner!

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So my first step is to make the marble cake.  It’s not out of OMG I can eat that, it’s out of my mixer cookbook.  First hurdle, figuring out how big 20cm is.  When you were born and raised in the only non Metric country in the world, this presents a problem.  Anyway, don’t get me started about how we all learned about the metric system back in 1985 because supposedly it was “coming soon” yet 25 years later, it’s still yet to reach the US.

Anyhoo, I cream together eggs, butter, and sugar in my mixer…and oops, that’s what happens when you don’t lock the bowl into place first, you get eggs, butter and sugar all over the counter.  Let’s try again! 

Can I just say how much I love My Mixer, Barbie?  I always wanted her and she was a present for my 30th birthday and hands down, nearly three years later, she’s still the best present ever….that I’ve received as an adult.  When I was 3 or 4 My Dad bought be a Love Boat playset, complete with an over 2 foot long Love Boat.  Now THAT was the best present ever especially when you’re just over 2 foot long yourself!!!!  Seriously!  It even had figures painted to look like the cast, including Isaac, Doc, Gopher, and my personal favourite, Julie McCoy, Cruise Director.  I wanted to change my name to Julie when I was about 3, in honour of course of Julie McCoy.

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Well, the cake batter is made and actually I have enough for two cakes—so The Runner will have one to take to work tomorrow if he’d like….Result for him!  The kitchen is in a bit of a state so I do a quick tidy before moving onto the main event!

The first step is to outline the ramekin tops so that I can make the Zucchini crust for the pies.  I trace, them onto baking paper and then grate two zucchini.  I stir in two eggs and 150g of shredded mozzarella and put them onto the baking paper.

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Then I chop the chicken and brown it for 6 minutes, remove it from the pan and add leeks and garlic.    After that’s cooked for 5 minutes, or possibly longer since I got a bit distracted by table setting.  I add rosemary and thyme and mushrooms.  Once that’s cooked I add the chicken and greek yoghurt and cook it until I’m dressed… ok, that’s not what the recipe says but as it’s 15 minutes before the guests come and I’m not dressed so it’s the most realistic way to time it! 

I’m dressed and now wearing an apron (fancy!) and as I’m filling the ramekins with the chicken, leek and mushroom mix the door bell rings with the first guest!

So…..  the meal is pretty easy to put together from here and a great meal for entertaining.  Firstly, it can all be done hours before anyone arrives and secondly, it’s a meal in a ramekin with a salad on the side, not exactly a culinary stretch!    But it actually tasted good.  Once the guests came, I sprinkled some parmesan over the ramekins and put the zucchini lids on.    Now they’re ready for the oven…  but not until all the guests arrive!

I make the salad, have some wine, have some more wine and then make the salad dressing.  What a great dinner party dish, there’s no work to do except to put it in the oven….. how good is that???

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Everyone arrives and everything goes to plan….the ramekins are actually more than enough to fill everyone—did you know the stomach only holds two fists worth of food?? Neither did I until tonight!  I reckon a ramekin is about 1 fist which leaves a whole second fist for cake and ice cream. 

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We forgot to sing Happy Birthday to The Runner, but The Runner who isn’t big on birthdays isn’t fussed.  It actually occurs to me that The Runner and I are the epitome of ying and yang.  He doesn’t care about his birthday, and I pretty much think mine should be an international festival.  He loves to eat, I love to cook.  I love fancy dress and will dress up at the drop of a hat, he definitely doesn’t.  He’s up at 5am to go cycling, I could sleep until noon.   It’s funny that we are the embodiment of opposites attracting.   But somehow we work.  So nevermind there were no candles and no happy birthday with the cake and ice cream tonight—I think I was more upset than he was.    It was a great dinner party.  We had DC, the Lineast, Ampersander, The Runner and I, and it was a blast!

The Ampersander chose Stephanie Alexander’s Cooks Companion for the next challenge!  Stay tuned, this could be an interesting one!!!!

I feel like Chicken Tonight, Like Chicken Tonight….

Maybe it’s an American thing, but I definitely remember those ads from being a kid.  My mom was always pretty good and making things relatively from scratch- but for a fleeting moment in time, we too got sucked into the Chicken Tonight jingle and bought Chicken Tonight…..  (What can I say, I’m a marketer’s dream!)

Fast forward quite a few years, and a continent far, far away to me and the Avoca Cafe Cookbook and tonight’s dinner.  I may have mentioned before that I’ve gone gluten free.  Well, for the last 6 weeks I’ve actually been gluten free and cows milk free and so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I CAN eat whilst maintaining this regime.  

However, the Avoca Cafe Cookbook has stopped me in my tracks.  Everything has cream, flour, or fish (I’m not a massive fan of seafood much to The Runner’s disgust).  As a result our dinner pickings are, well, slim.  Very slim to be honest.  We have to rule out all of the Sausage recipes (gluten), Ham and mushroom en croute, Parma wrapped filet of ham, and a few options including a Lamb tagine (I don’t have hours to spend making dinner tonight).  Also gone, the Chicken, mushroom and asparagus lasagne- it sounds lovely but two lasagnas in one week is a bit much.  I can break out the gluten free flour which will expand our options a bit, but really we’re left with Beef Stew; Chicken w/garlic,red wine, and bay leaves; green chicken curry- although I won’t be making the paste from scratch tonight; and Duck breasts with celeriac mash and hot cherry sauce.  Yes, I ruled out pheasant and guinea fowl as well…. so as you can imagine, we’re having chicken tonight.  

Only 5 ingredients needed, and one of them is 3/4 of a bottle of red wine.    It looks like it will take 40 minutes to cook, fingers crossed, and the only things I don’t have in the house are 12 bay leaves and chicken.  It serves 6 so The Runner can take it for lunch tomorrow and Thursday.  Done!!!!!!

A recap of the week in the kitchen….

So after being extremely slack Monday by not making a thing for dinner, I redeemed myself on Tuesday evening and made TWO (2) TWO(!) dishes on Tuesday night.    Well, actually it was three,  but who’s counting.  However, my kitchen exploits were not without some drama….

So I bowed to pressure from The Runner and made him Spaghettini with Egg & Toasted Parsley Breadcrumbs (with fettucine) from Apples for Jam.  I made it so that he could take it for lunch during the week and have healthy and nutritious, made with love lunches all week…

I also made Chicken Escalopes with Parsley & Capers (p.189- I used white wine instead of water- yum!) with Creamy Spinach with Feta (p.199).  It was all SUPER yum- and super easy….. except one small mishap that resulted in flames.  Lots of flames, big flames shooting from the stove top.

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Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad, but The Runner and I were both a bit panicked…..and there may have been screams.  And the smoke alarm, and general panic in the kitchen for about 3 minutes.  I’m not quite sure what caused it– or realistically what I would have done if the fire flames hadn’t put themselves out but dinner was yummy- and not even the least bit charred.

So far, all three dishes from Apples for Jam have been yum!  So tonight, we’re having Prawn & Spinach Brown Rice Risotto.   Hopefully, it will be as tasty as the chicken and spinach were, and hopefully I won’t set the place on fire…..

 

Fingers crossed.